Protestants & Politics 1/26/21
Inauguration; Russell Moore; Pluralism; Pastors and conspiracy theories; QAnon and anti-Semitism; Evangelicals dying out?; Immigration; Divided America; Christian fiction; Religious freedom
The group sat and listened to performances from violinist Patricia Treacy and the gospel choir of St. Augustine, a historic Black Catholic Church in Washington. Also among the musical numbers: Renée Fleming singing “On Eagle’s Wings,” the same hymn Biden mentioned in his campaign victory speech.
It was an appropriately spiritual beginning to a faith-infused day and what is shaping up to be an unapologetically religious presidential term for Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history. And unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, who spoke often of Christianity being under fire, Biden spent Wednesday invoking faith as a tool for healing and unity.
Indeed, unity was literally the theme of the day, with Biden baking it into virtually every aspect of his inauguration, including the church visit: At the president’s invitation, lawmakers from both parties — Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer as well as members of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Roy Blunt and Steny Hoyer — sat in the pews with him.
“It’s–it’s been lonely,” says Moore of his stance. “But I think many people have experienced that sort of loneliness over the past four or five years. I don’t know a single family that’s not been divided over President Trump, and politics generally. I don’t know a single church that hasn’t been.” Moore’s opinions are not new. He has been a Never Trumper since at least 2015 and scoffs at the notion put forward by many evangelical leaders that Trump converted to Christianity just before being elected. “It is not a position that I find rational,” he says. “Especially when Mr. Trump has been very clear about his own spiritual journey, or lack thereof.”
The usually mild-mannered author’s stance has come at a cost. He says both he and his family have been the subject of threats and that people have tried to dig up information that would prove he is a liberal. (Heaven forfend!) In February 2020, the executive committee of the SBC formed a task force to look into whether the ERLC was fulfilling its “ministry assignment” after reports that churches were withholding their giving, citing Moore’s political positions.
The question of whether or not the religious left exists in today’s American political landscape can be put to rest. The coalition that put Joe Biden in the White House and Raphael Warnock in the Senate includes many people of faith with diverse religious motivations. We stand on the shoulders of generations of faith-rooted activists before us, and we will be taking part in every movement for social, racial, economic and climate justice for generations to come. For far too long, the religious right has controlled American religious discourse. But no longer.
Funders and religious leaders can and should work together with the Biden administration—and leaders at all levels of government—to promote true religious freedom and pluralism, to overcome deep divisions, and to create better partnerships between government and civil society to meet our collective challenges.
A new study from Nashville-based Lifeway Research finds 49% of U.S. Protestant pastors say they frequently hear members of their congregation repeating conspiracy theories they have heard about why something is happening in our country. Around 1 in 8 (13%) strongly agree their congregants are sharing conspiracy theories, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”
Another 47% disagree, including 26% who strongly disagree, saying they do not often hear church members sharing such ideas. One in 20 (5%) are not sure.
Christian nationalists and QAnon followers tend to be anti-Semitic. That was seen in the Capitol attack.
We found that Christian nationalism, support for QAnon, and anti-Semitism are linked. As you can see in the figure below, among the 25 percent of our respondents who most strongly believed in Christian nationalism, 73 percent agreed with the substance of the QAnon conspiracy. QAnon belief extended across the spectrum, even to those opposed to Christian nationalism. As you can see, in the quartile of those least likely to believe in Christian nationalism, 14 percent agreed with QAnon beliefs. Still, we found very strong support for a link between QAnon adherence and Christian nationalism.
What about anti-Semitism? Since Christian nationalism is a worldview holding that the United States was created by and for Christians, it may not be surprising that they dislike non-Christians. On average, the most ardent Christian nationalists subscribed to four of the eight anti-Semitic tropes presented; those most opposed to Christian nationalism subscribed to an average of one. Christian nationalists were more likely to believe each individual trope but showed the strongest support for the mistaken ideas that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” and “Jews killed Jesus.”
These self-identification measures are so important because they allow researchers a window into the mind of the average person. If the term “evangelical” has become as radioactive as many people suggest, then it would seem reasonable that smaller percentages of the public would willingly take on the label – but they are not. Just the opposite, in fact.
But just because the share of Americans who identify as an evangelical has not changed in a statistically meaningful way doesn’t mean that the composition of that group has not. A crucial part of this story is that the term “evangelical” has, I believe, become somewhat detached from its theological roots and morphed into a term that seems to capture political sensibilities as well.
White evangelical Protestants continue to be most likely to hold favorable views of Trump (62%), similar to the share observed among this group in November (59%). He has lost ground among white Catholics, 39% of whom view him favorably, compared to a slim majority (51%) in November. Four in ten white mainline Protestants (41%) hold favorable views of the outgoing president, which is an increase from 34% in November but not statistically significant.
Christians of color and religiously unaffiliated Americans continue to express low ratings of Trump. Less than one in five Protestants of color (19%) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (19%) view Trump favorably.
Podcasts and Audio
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as the next President and Vice President of the United States at noon today, January 20, 2021. The Biden-Harris administration has a proposed set of policy goals that they hope to accomplish in their time of office, one of which includes increasing the refugee ceiling to closer to the U.S historical average number at 125,000.
Recently, World Relief’s Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang sat down to discuss what raising the refugee ceiling means for the United States, for World Relief and for refugees around the world.
In this conversation, you’ll hear Jenny answer questions like: Is there a precedent for an incoming president changing the ceiling mid-fiscal year? How does COVID-19 affect this plan? Would the increased ceiling affect World Relief’s work? What can I do to help newly arrived refugees?
This week on the Faith Angle Podcast, we are joined by David French and Ruth Graham to discuss divisions in modern America.
We are in the midst of a very controversial election period in which there have been reams of commentary about the role played by evangelicals.
How can the church engage in political issues without having a politicized faith? What should we be thinking about the role of Evangelicals in the riot at the Capitol? How does the American evangelical church come back together and heal as one body even with divergent political views?
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple, President and CEO of Christianity Today and Walter Kim, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, tackle these difficult questions.
Who are evangelicals? And what is evangelicalism? Those attempting to answer these questions usually speak in terms of political and theological stances. But those stances emerge from an evangelical world with its own institutions—institutions that shape imagination as much as they shape ideology.
In this unique exploration of evangelical subculture, Daniel Silliman shows readers how Christian fiction, and the empire of Christian publishing and bookselling it helped build, is key to understanding the formation of evangelical identity. With a close look at five best-selling novels—Loves Comes Softly, This Present Darkness, Left Behind, The Shunning, and The Shack—Silliman considers what it was in these books that held such appeal and what effect their widespread popularity had on the evangelical imagination.
Reading Evangelicals ultimately makes the case that the worlds created in these novels reflected and shaped the world evangelicals saw themselves living in—one in which romantic love intertwines with divine love, in which humans play an active role in the cosmic contest between the divine and the demonic, and in which the material world is infused with the literal workings of God and Satan. Silliman tells the story of how the Christian publishing industry marketed these ideas as much as they marketed books, and how, during the era of the Christian bookstore, this—every bit as much as politics or theology—became a locus of evangelical identity.
Christians are often thought of as defending only their own religious interests in the public square. They are viewed as worrying exclusively about the erosion of their freedom to assemble and to follow their convictions, while not seeming as concerned about publicly defending the rights of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and atheists to do the same.
Andrew T. Walker, an emerging Southern Baptist public theologian, argues for a robust Christian ethic of religious liberty that helps the church defend religious freedom for everyone in a pluralistic society. Whether explicitly religious or not, says Walker, every person is striving to make sense of his or her life. The Christian foundations of religious freedom provide a framework for how Christians can navigate deep religious difference in a secular age. As we practice religious liberty for our neighbors, we can find civility and commonality amid disagreement, further the church's engagement in the public square, and become the strongest defenders of religious liberty for all. Foreword by noted Princeton scholar Robert P. George.
A year ago, the SNF Agora Institute met in Cincinnati to explore what diverse people of faith, civic leaders, and community organizations could learn from each other about the relationship of faith, race, and politics as we headed into the 2020 election season.
In the year since, faith and race have been at the forefront of some of the most defining political moments of 2020, from the sweeping protests against racial violence, to the appointment of devout Catholic Amy Coney Barret to the Supreme Court, to the election to the U.S. Senate of Georgia’s first Black senator, Rev. Raphael Warnock. The tensions around faith, race, and politics exploded at the outset of 2021 with insurrection at the United States Capitol, cloaked in the language of white Christian nationalism. Since the insurrection, prominent evangelical leaders have been calling for a moment of reckoning within the evangelical community. What are the prospects for change, however? Given the deeply rooted forces of disinformation, conspiratorial thinking, and historical legacies of racism, what is to be done?
This event will convene prominent evangelical leaders, including those working to build racial justice within the church, for a follow-up discussion focusing specifically on what evangelicals are doing and can do to confront this divisive moment.
• Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Professor of History and Gender Studies, Calvin University
• Chuck Mingo, Founder, UNDIVIDED, Teaching Pastor, Crossroads Church
• Ed Stetzer, Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership, Wheaton College, Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center
• Hahrie Han, Inaugural Director, SNF Agora Institute & Professor, Department of Political Science, KSAS
Feb 3, 2021 02:00 PM in Eastern Time